Gower Bibliography

From Complaint to Satire: The Art of the Confessio Amantis

Clogan, Paul M. "From Complaint to Satire: The Art of the Confessio Amantis." Medievalia et Humanistica 4 (1973), pp. 217-222.


Clogan argues that in the CA Gower "transformed traditional themes of rebuke from complaint to satire" (218). The distinction between complaint and satire is taken from John Peter's 1956 study Complaint and Satire in Early English Literature. Peter "drew a basic distinction between complaint, which is said to be impersonal, conceptual, Christian, corrective, and unsophisticated and satire, which is identified as being personal, sophisticated, flexible, and only superficially corrective in aim" (218). Clogan criticizes this "vague classification" (219), not least because it suggests that the taste for satire virtually died out from the time of St. Jerome until the Renaissance. According to Clogan, Gower included many traditional themes of complaint in the CA – e.g., the attacks on the clergy, Lollards, and usurers – but they fit within "a larger scheme of satire" (219). Gower's satirical approach is seen in the confessional framework of the poem, which is a parody of the penitential manuals. Especially ironic is the figure of Genius, who is both the priest of Venus and has to teach the lesson of the Seven Deadly Sins. Clogan observes that "Genius signifies the only sin which the Lover does not confess" (220). Amans too is treated satirically. As a senex amans he "becomes the counterpart of Chaucer's January as he tries to possess his young wife" (220). Although Gower thus satirizes the penitential and courtly traditions, yet "his writings can also be labeled moral because their satirical view of the world ranges from ironic contrasts to a burlesque dignity" (221). Clogan further cautions "against placing too much significance on the political and social views since the Confessio is essentially concerned with the divine perspective in human affairs" (221). This perspective is evident in the great "web of contrasts which bind and unite the poem" (221), contrasts which ultimately depend on irony and satire for their effect. [CvD]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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